Many of the patients we treat at Acupuncture in the Park have conditions that are diet related. That doesn’t mean that a patient is eating bad food; it means that they’re eating the wrong kinds of foods for their particular needs. In most cases, a few dietary changes can help the healing process a great deal.
The ancient sages of Chinese medicine believed that doctors should first treat their patients with the proper foods, and if dietary changes do not work, only then should they turn to acupuncture and herbs for a cure. This method of treatment is an interesting way to think about Chinese medicine, but it also speaks to the power of food to heal your body.
We know that foods have certain properties. For example, we’ve heard that carrots are good for your eyes and spinach makes you strong (think Popeye). In Chinese medicine, foods also have inherent properties, and those properties are the foundation of dietary therapy. Foods can help the healing process in the following ways:
Foods have an inherent temperature. This means that they can cool or warm your body. For example, if you were suffering with hot flashes, night sweats or some other warm condition, a diet with lots of watermelon, cucumbers, or tomatoes would be helpful for their cooling properties. However, if you have a condition that is aggravated by the cold weather, you would do better with warming foods, such as lamb, cinnamon, scallions, and ginger.
Different foods affect specific organ systems. For example, if you have a dry cough a good food choice would be pears and apples because they moisten your lungs, while certain kinds of nuts and seeds moisten your intestines to alleviate constipation. In Chinese dietary therapy, foods are frequently chosen for the organ systems that they influence.
Foods also have a variety of actions. Simply put, different foods do different things. For example, sea vegetables strengthen your Chinese kidney system, green tea leaches out excess water by promoting urination, and pumpkins and other squash help with digestion.
Believe it or not, the color of the food you eat matters, too. Darkly colored foods strengthen your blood, black foods nourish your kidney system, green sprouts and young lettuce are good for your liver, and yellow root vegetables and squash boost your digestion.
There are a number of foods that are also considered to be Chinese herbs, including scallions, walnuts, sesame seeds, certain melons, and sea vegetables. While there are many similarities between the healing properties of foods and herbs, most foods tend to have weaker effects than those of herbs. This is because herbs tend to be more concentrated, while foods are eaten in larger quantities and more frequently.
Think of it this way: food is considered a kind of medicine that you get to eat three times a day. Illness can occur if you don’t eat the right foods (for you), if you eat too much or too little, or if your foods are not cooked in a way that they can be easily digested. Dietary therapy is considered the first line of defense in Chinese medicine. In reality however, by the time a patient seeks out acupuncture for a health condition, dietary therapy should be combined with acupuncture and herbal medicine for the best results.